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her skin the blue of twilight
she slips between
the hours
ferrying messages
between above and below
I saw her today
and gave her a note
it said: I am coming

Anniversaries are a time to revel in love and romance, it’s true. But they are also times to reflect back on all the hard work that makes a marriage. As we know, a pearl–beautiful and sublime–is formed when an irritant gets inside the shell of a mollusk. As the mollusk copes with the irritant, it slowly and gradually forms something quite spectacular. So, too, do the little irritations of marriage create something beautiful–tolerance for human frailties, understanding of differences, blessed patience, and the appreciation of simple presence.

Thirty years of love AND work create a beautiful, shimmering, pearl of a marriage.

Best Wishes to you!


Sometimes I run across things. Virgin of Guadalupe cards, St. Jude, St. Francis of Assisi. My rosary, tucked away in a jewelry box, lying silent in a soft leather purse. I hold it to the light. Deep red stones, drops of blood flow across my palm like stigmata. I rub my hand against gold-leafed picture frames and enter soaring dark spaces, quiet flames of intention. I touch the hem of Mary’s blue gown resting on her sandaled foot in the sacristy. My house is a reliquary of broken shards and slivers. A certificate of baptism, a photo of a tender 7-year-old bride of Christ, a name—Therese—written in a looping, curvy 14-year-old hand, above the signature of the bishop.

I left the church long ago, for a marriage that eventually ended. The lessons etched into me by the catechism at Sacred Heart Catholic Church have been washed away over time, leaving a clean smooth place. They have been replaced by a catechism of my own making, one that has evolved over time, unlike the ancient and enduring mythos of the church. But I confess that I still have a bit of a connection left, still a tiny bit of religious umbilical cord. It’s triggered when I see a bit of gilt, or a votive bearing the image of a saint. I am drawn to it as surely as I was once drawn toward the altar, mouth open like a baby bird for the body of Christ. I run across these items in lots of places, but none more than a local Catholic bookstore. Every so often when someone I know requires a holy medal or a christening gift, I browse a little. I am distracted and then angered by what I see as propaganda—brochures about abstinence that are patently shaming to women, booklets about “The American Holocaust” of abortion, which insults both the victims of the Jewish Holocaust and the women who struggle with this decision. But then my gaze finds something, and I touch it, handle it with tenderness and a quick intake of breath. The holiness is still there, present in the simple beauty rather than the message. And, I still love the saints—that array of gracious and concerned helpers. St. Anthony’s my main man, keeping his eyes peeled for my car keys, a bracelet, a favorite book. I turn each totem this way and that, weighing its aesthetic appeal against my disputes with the Pope. Sometimes I buy, taking home a tiny piece of my childhood in a crinkly paper sack. These items are Sanctus ornamentum; items I first associated with a state of grace.

My ornamentum is now much more diverse—trees, warm skin, flowing water, smooth stones, faint moonlight, pen and paper, rising bread, a furry black dog, the scream of a kestrel in the pasture outside of town. These things are my holy trappings now. But there is a satisfaction to creating my own holy place, a place that has just a hint of Sacred Heart. Sadly, there are no vaulted ceilings, no marble floors; but on the other hand, no hard wooden pews either. The closest thing to a confessional is my bathtub, where I make long-distance revelations to my sister or mother. Lying in the steamy water, I dissect my transgressions and triumphs—the latter, sadly, are left unexplored in the dark recesses of the church’s confessional. And then I wash away my sins. And oh!—the resurrection of the body.

I have left it all behind, mostly: the incense, the chanting, the myopic patriarchal dogma. But there’s nothing like a little gilt to catch the eye of an old Catholic girl.

This piece was written during a literary dry spell, one that Soul Food has helped to dispell.


For days I have been wrapped in oppressive Midwest heat and smothered by a depression that draws me close and whispers hotly in my ear, “Who are you kidding?” I am stifled, immobile, stuck at my monitor with nothing flowing mind to hand to screen. The weather pattern that descended on the prairie presses my body to the scorching earth, all sense of story and rhyme driven from my head in the blasting white heat of the plains. My imagination is bone-dry, bleached like a skull in the pasture. By some miracle I rouse myself from my bed this morning at 6 a.m. and set off with my dog Katy for a walk in the neighborhood.

As I pass beneath the silver maple that stands guard by my door, I inhale a warm wet smell, rising from the steaming earth like incense. In an olfactory rush instantaneous and complex associations create the impression of “green.” I look around, surprised. A rain had come, finally. In my death-sleep I had missed the heat-turning-to-rain lightening, the slow rumble of thunder, the answering sigh of the prairie curves arching up to receive. The asphalt gleamed under the streetlights, puddles collecting at the end of the drive. Katy struggles ahead, eager to explore the newly uncovered smells. As we walk, she buries her nose in the shimmering grass, slowing our progress from time to time with her Newtonian tricks, becoming immovable for moments on end, offering me an opportunity to spy the trumpets of wild Missouri roses, their tender white throats open to the precious moisture.

We turn the corner. The wind lifts the brim of my cap as my skin registers the first drops of rain, fat and slightly cool. I shiver at the rare chill of the moment. The streets are quiet and my ears, clear of the heat and emotion of the previous two weeks, are keen. A loose chain rings musically against a fencepost, water drips from a downspout, wet dust grinds beneath my shoe. We pass a Bradford pear tree, alive with hidden starlings sharing morning gossip. Katy rushes the trunk, and they rise with a jarring thrum, flowing west toward the park in a single fluid current.
My skin drinks in the moisture, even as Katy shakes it off. Each fleeting drop is like a current, scintillating my deadened nerves. I quicken my pace. Katy senses my urgency and surges ahead. My mind begins to clear as I register the jingling of dog tags, the hum of air conditioners, the scent of wet cedar mulch, the spray of purple dianthus at the fence. Color creeps through the gray light of pre-dawn, infusing the day. We see no one, save a few quiet cars, headed to early shifts at factories and hospitals. It is a private world, fresh and clean as new broomstraw. My heart opens and releases the stale hot air trapped by the summer and my own fear. Each viscous hollow of my body registers the change as the prairie wind gathers strength, scudding dark clouds across a sky that just yesterday was a blank white bowl. The bright damp air rushes into the vacuum as the dullness seeps from my eyes. The rain breaks over me, rinsing me clean.


At the jetty, I see a large boat, that looks for all the world like a dried milkweed pod. I know it is waiting for me. In it are four women, tall and sturdily built, wearing robes of white. The beckon me aboard and show me to a seat in the bow. I watch their strong arms as they row us through the choppy water. They are muscular, synchronized, and silent. We move swiftly through the water for a bit and then suddenly, one of the women begins to sing. The others take up her song, in turn, and sing in a round.

All that holds us, rise!
All that rocks us, rise!
All that hides the world beneath,
Rise, rise, rise!

Greet your daughters, Mother
Fold us in your wings
Let us see the truth beyond
Mother, hear us sing!

All that holds us, rise!
All that rocks us, rise!
All that hides the world beneath,
Rise, rise, rise!

Welcome now a stranger
Coming to your shores
She who travels inward
Seeking other doors.

All that holds us, rise!
All that rocks us, rise!
All that hides the world beneath,
Rise, rise, rise!

As this song travels across the water, an island begins to form before my eyes. Is it merely coming out of the mist, or are these women singing it into existence? I cannot know, but we are drawn inexorably toward it, even though the ferry women have laid down their oars.

We are drawn in to a protected cove, and out boat gently grounds itself on the shore. The women, now humming softly, jump lightly from the boat and form a line. I join them and follow them through some trees at the edge of the rocky beach. In the clearing I see a large old house, with fabulous turrets at each corner. There are fairy lights twined about the porch and the sign hanging next to the door says “Owl Island Inn: Est. Before the Earth Was Born.” This made me pause, but before long, I was lagging behind, so I ran to catch up with the women. I huffed and puffed my way up the hill, occasionally sighting people and strange creatures in the woods and along the roadside, who would wave or stare at me. In a meadow that skirted the shore, waves gently lapping at its edge, I saw a small house with a red tile roof, and beyond it, a lovely lighthouse, made in the old style, a round stone structure that supported a small, square open sided room at the top, from whence the light would shine. I wished to stop and climb the lighthouse, but still we pressed on. Deep into the woods we went, until we reached a large stone, part of a bluff or cliff of sorts, that had been inscribed and painted with all sorts of magical symbols. One symbol that kept repeating over and over was that of a great owl, drawn in ways both primitive and representative.
The women stopped and slipped out of their cloaks to reveal gorgeous shimmering gowns of white with jeweled belts bearing the image of the Owl. Each of them wore a shimmering circlet upon her head, and jeweled cuffs on her upper arms. I realized with humility that these were the priestesses of the Great Owl that I had read about. I bowed my head.

One of the priestesses, the eldest, walked to the right of the stone, and I saw a small spring which fed a lake lying beyond the stone bluff. From her gown, she drew a small crystal amphora and filled it. She returned and poured it over the stone, saying: “I cover thee with the veil of An. Thou art anointed with my vow to thee. Henceforth shall I keep my way in thy Light, for I am that which you are, the Way of Creation through the labyrinth of Ptah.”
The other priestesse had made ready, as well. One held a golden bowl of honey, and the eldest priestess washed her hands in the bowl.
“Oh, sacred elixir, queen of sweetness, comfort me.” She rubbed the stone with honey, saying: “I return to the hive of my fortune. To the guardian of the sweetness of the wisdom of Past, Present and Future.”
The youngest priestess took my hand and then presssed a blue star sapphire to my forehead. She said, “Behold, she who guards the labyrinth of Ashara, she comes in the night, she sleeps in the day. She holds the star before her, she gives birth to the sun.”

Suddenly, the rocks began to move, sliding aside to reveal a path.
“Enter the labyrinth, Sister, and take this to guide you.” She hands me a white feather.
The rock slides closed behind me, but I find I have light, shining from the feather, and I begin my journey to the White Owl. I have questions, so many questions, but as I follow that path of the labyrinth, they begin to burn away in my mind, each one burning to ashes, a clean, white burning, until there is only one question left in my mind. I hold this question with all of my being as I walk the labyrinth.
In time, minutes or eons, I enter a cavern at the center of the labyrinth. I see a massive white owl, perched upon the branch of a large dead tree. She turns her head and looks at me sharply, eyes luminous and enormous. She snaps her beak at me.

“Hello, Mother. I was brought here to you…for wisdom. Thank you for receiving me today.”

“You were not brought,” she says, in a low, thrumming voice. “You came.”

“Yes, I did.”

“You seek?”

“yes, Mother.”
“I am a mirror to those who come through the winding way. I vow to be the sealer as well as the revealer. What is your question?”

I ask her what is in my heart.

She speaks: In each life, daughter, the paths are many, and they intersect on many planes. At each signpost, one must make a choice. However, one must know the language of the signposts to choose correctly.”

“The language?”

“Yes, daughter. The world has one language, the brain another, the heart yet another. Humans are taught one, at best, two of these languages. Just as most cannot decipher my language, often they cannot decipher their heart’s language, and set off on the wrong path.”

“Can one go back and find the way?”

“No, daughter.” At this I wept, bitterly. She flew from her post and landed before me, her eyes impossibly bright.

“You cannot go back—but the paths are many, the intersections on many planes—who is to say? Ahead may lie your greatest choice, and you are on the path to knowing the language of the heart. If you were not, you would not be here, with me. Nature, love, solitude, wonder—these are all words you know, but now you feel them, feel them as they cut deep into your heart. You are learning.” She brushed my forehead with her great wing as she flew back to her perch.

My face was damp with tears. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a bead I had made. It was carved of bone, something I found in the forest. On it I had inscribed spirals, feeling the intuitiven rightness of it as I had done it, yet not knowing why. It was a perfect offering for the Great Owl. “Thank you,” I whispered as I lay it in a hollow of the tree.

I wandered back through the labyrinth, becoming calmer and surer with each step. When I exited, the priestesses formed a line and walked back toward the boat. Silently, I followed, and rode deep in thought as we approached Duwamish. The sun crested the horizon as we touched ground. I slipped my hand into my pocket, and felt the white feather, slightly warm and faintly pulsing.

I am feeling rather homesick for Kansas right now, as this journey is more arduous than I had thought. I believe darling Agnes sensed my mood, because she used her unicorn powers to fly us magically to the Tallgrass Prairie of my home state. One moment we were on the road to Duwamish, the next, we touched down at Spring Hill Ranch. Agnes set to grazing on the rich prairie grass, and I took a rejuvenating solitary walk on the prairie. I walked for miles, my eyes resting on the gently dramatic contours of the unspoiled prairie. A few miles into my hike, I turned, looking 360° to see nothing but prairie—not a person, not a structure—and only a few large and noble cottonwood trees.

As I reached a small oasis of water, signaled by a clustered stand of cottonwood giants, the breeze picked up. A perfect place to stop for a snack, I though, and settled myself on a huge dead log. The wind continued to rise, and the cottonwood leaves made a rushing sound like a river in flood. I was perfectly relaxed, staring off into the distance, when a figure appeared on the horizon. Striding purposefully toward me, I noted that she had on a long dark gown and was carrying a bucket. She stepped into the grove and bent to her task—filling the bucket from the nearby spring. I watched her, noticing the stark gray hair pulled back into a bun, the white apron, the high-button shoes, the stern features focused on her labor. I spoke.
“Hello, how are you today?” She did not respond, merely completed her task, turned, and strode past me, slightly bent to counterbalance the weight of the water-filled bucket. She disappeared over the hill. I was astonished. I expected the historical re-enactors they had at this place to be a bit friendlier. But, shrugging it off, I filled my bottle from the spring and walked on. In three hours time I was back at the stone barn, finding things in a bit of an uproar because apparently Madame Eclectica and her wagon had apparated behind me, and she was now causing quite a bit of chaos in the cistern and spring house, throwing off her robes and insisting on a bath. Those Prairie rangers, farm boys all, had never seen such a woman. They were fairly bewitched, leaving a couple of female rangers to tend to the gift shop and exhibits, which I browsed while Eclectica sorted them out. I was nearly ready to leave, when I spied a book, “Prairie Women:True Live of Women on the Frontier,” about prairie women in Kansas. The woman on the cover, standing chest deep in Big Bluestem, toddler on her hip, circa 1860, was the woman I had seen at the springs. A shiver ran through me.

I purchased the book and left. I collected Eclectica and had a word with Agnes, who spirited us all back into Lemuria, where we touched down at Duwamish Bay. I sipped from my prairie spring water as I flipped through the book. Periodically, I gazed at the cover, where the face of Emmeline Chase stared out at me, shy, proud, hardworking, beautiful. She died at forty, my own age. Once again, I shivered. I kissed Agnes goodbye, and complimented her on her mastery of unicorn-power and now relatively infrequent spells of hysterics, and set off with Eclectica in tow to the Ferry House.